Treatments for depression

There are a range of effective, evidence-based depression treatments. These include therapy and antidepressant medications. What works best will be different for each person.

Your mental health professional will work with you to find the treatment which works best for you. You may need to try a few different ones before you find which one’s best for dealing with your depression.

Group of friends supporting each other

Which treatment is best?

For mild depression your health professional might suggest lifestyle changes, such as regular exercise and avoiding alcohol. You might also like to try online e-therapies. Many e-therapies are free, anonymous and easily accessible.

For moderate to severe depression, psychological or medical treatments (or both) are likely to be recommended.

On this page we focus on 6 treatments for depression which have been proven to work by a lot of good-quality studies.

For a comprehensive review of the effectiveness of more than 50 different depression treatments, download our booklet: A guide to what works for depression: an evidence-based review (PDF, 6.67 KB).

 

Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT)

CBT is one of the most effective treatments for depression. It’s a structured psychological treatment which recognises that the way we think (cognition) and act (behaviour) affects the way we feel. 

A mental health professional will work with you to identify unhelpful thought and behaviour patterns. Unhelpful thoughts and behaviours can make you feel more depressed and stop you from getting better.

CBT will help you replace unhelpful thoughts and behaviours with new ones that reduce your depression. It can be delivered one-on-one with a professional, in groups, or online.

Example: Managing catastrophising thought patterns

You might find yourself stuck in catastrophising thinking patterns. Maybe you:

  • think the worst
  • believe something is far worse than it actually is
  • expect things to go wrong.

CBT helps by teaching you to have a more balanced attitude and focus on problem-solving.

Behaviour therapy

Behaviour therapy is used as part of CBT. Unlike CBT it doesn’t attempt to change beliefs and attitudes.

Behaviour therapy focuses on encouraging activities that are rewarding, pleasant or satisfying. It aims to reverse the patterns of avoidance, withdrawal and inactivity that make depression worse.

Interpersonal therapy (IPT)

IPT is a structured psychological therapy that focuses on problems in personal relationships and the skills needed to deal with these. Relationship problems can have a significant negative effect on someone experiencing depression.

IPT helps you recognise patterns in your relationships that can make your depression worse. It helps you focus on:

  • improving relationships
  • coping with grief
  • finding new ways to get along with others.

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT)

MBCT uses 'mindfulness meditation' and is usually delivered in group therapy. It teaches you to focus on the present moment without trying to change it. First, you’ll learn to focus on physical sensations such as breathing. Then you’ll learn to focus on feelings and thoughts.

MBCT can help to stop your mind:

  • wandering off into thoughts about the future or the past
  • avoiding unpleasant thoughts and feelings.

Noticing feelings of sadness and negative thinking patterns early can help stop them from becoming worse.

Online therapies

If you have mild or moderate depression, online therapies can be effective. They’re sometimes known as e-therapies or computer-aided psychological therapy.

Most online therapies follow the same principles as CBT or behaviour therapy.

You work through the program by yourself, usually with some support from a therapist. The therapist will help you apply what you’ve learned to your own life. You might talk to them on the phone, by email, text, or instant messaging.

Where to find online therapies

Online therapies are easy to access and can be done from home from anywhere in Australia. Usually you don’t need a referral from a GP.

Find a range of online programs at the Australian Government's Head to Health website.

Antidepressants

Antidepressant medication can effectively treat moderate to severe depression and some anxiety disorders.

It can take a while for you to see improvements. Antidepressants take at least 2 weeks before they start to help. Your depression symptoms are likely to begin to improve after 4 to 6 weeks.

If you have severe depression, bipolar disorder or psychosis you may also be prescribed mood stabilisers or anti-psychotic drugs.

Best antidepressant for you

Deciding which antidepressant is best for you can be complex. Even if a treatment is proven to be effective, it may not be equally effective for every person.

To decide which antidepressant is best for you, your doctor might ask about your:

  • medical history
  • age
  • symptoms
  • other medications.

If you’re female, they may ask if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.

Your doctor might need to change your medication or dosage if it’s not working as well as expected. It can take time to find the antidepressant that works best for you.

Antidepressants side effects

Antidepressants won't change your personality or make you feel happy all the time. Possible side effects depend on the antidepressant medication. The likelihood of experiencing side effects also varies from person to person.

Common side effects of antidepressants include:

  • nausea and weight gain
  • headaches and dizziness
  • anxiety and agitation
  • sweating and dry mouth
  • sexual difficulties – for example, difficulty becoming or staying aroused.

If you do experience side effects, tell your doctor – there are ways of reducing them. Some symptoms don’t last long and will go away by themselves.

Suicidal thoughts

Sometimes people with depression have suicidal thoughts. People are less likely to hurt themselves if the depression is treated effectively.

It can take more than two weeks for antidepressant medication to start to be effective. During this time you should be monitored closely by your doctor. The risk of suicidal behaviour may be slightly increased during this time, especially in young people.

Types of antidepressants

There’s a wide range of antidepressant medication available. We’ve listed the different types of antidepressants used in Australia.

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)

This class includes sertraline, citalopram, escitalopram, paroxetine, fluoxetine and fluvoxamine.

SSRIs are:

  • the most commonly prescribed antidepressants in Australia
  • often a doctor's first choice for most types of depression
  • often used for obsessive compulsive disorder
  • generally well tolerated by most people
  • generally non-sedating.

Serotonin and Noradrenalin Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs)

This class includes venlafaxine, desvenlafaxine and duloxetine.

SNRIs:

  • have fewer side effects compared to SSRIs
  • are often prescribed for severe depression
  • are safer if a person overdoses.

Reversible Inhibitors of MonoAmine oxidase (RIMAs)

This class includes moclobemide.

RIMAs:

  • have fewer side effects
  • are non-sedating
  • may be less effective in treating more severe forms of depression than other antidepressants
  • are helpful for people who are experiencing anxiety or sleeping difficulties.

TriCyclic Antidepressants (TCAs)

The class includes nortriptyline, clomipramine, dothiepin, imipramine and amitriptyline.

TCAs are:

  • effective, but have more harmful side effects than newer medications such as SSRIs
  • more likely to cause low blood pressure
  • often used for obsessive compulsive disorder.

Noradrenaline-Serotonin Specific Antidepressants (NaSSAs)

This class includes mirtazapine.

NaSSAs are:

  • relatively new antidepressants
  • helpful when there are problems with anxiety or sleeping
  • generally low in sexual side effects but may cause weight gain.

Noradrenalin Reuptake Inhibitors (NARIs)

This class includes reboxetine.

NARIs are:

  • designed to act selectively on one type of brain chemical – noradrenalin
  • less likely to cause sleepiness or drowsiness than some other antidepressants
  • more likely to cause difficulties with sleeping

After the initial doses, NARIs are more likely to cause:

  • increased sweating
  • sexual difficulties
  • difficulty urinating
  • increased heart rate.

Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs)

This class includes tranylcypromine.

MAOIs are prescribed only under exceptional circumstances. They require a special diet and have adverse effects.

Agomelatine

Agomelatine is an atypical antidepressant that stimulates melatonin receptors.

Common side effects include headaches and sleep disturbances.

In rare cases it can affect your liver and it’s not recommended for people who already have liver problems. Regular blood tests to monitor your liver function are usually recommended if you take agomelatine.

How long are antidepressants usually needed?

The length of time you need antidepressants depends on the severity of your condition and how you respond to treatment.

Some people only need to take antidepressants for 6 to 12 months. Others may need to take it for longer, just like someone with diabetes might use insulin or someone with asthma would use Ventolin.

Don’t stop taking your antidepressant medication suddenly. Stopping antidepressant medication should be:

  • done gradually
  • on a doctor's recommendation
  • under supervision.

More information on medical treatments for anxiety and depression

Do I have depression?

It can be hard to know whether you’re feeling depressed or have depression.

Our anonymous mental health check-in can help you understand whether your symptoms are likely to go away on their own, or whether it’s time to get more support to help you feel better.

It’s an evidence-based tool which asks you 10 questions about the feelings you’ve been having over the past 4 weeks. It’s sometimes called the “K10” and is widely used by GPs and mental health professionals.

Mental health check-in

Finding mental health support

Your GP can be a good place to start the conversation about your mental health.

We can also help you find other support that’s right for you. This could include talking to our counsellors or helping you find a mental health professional near you.

Get mental health support

Connect with our online peer support community

Anonymously read, share and learn from people who are also living with depression.

The Beyond Blue Forums is a welcoming peer support community. Posts are moderated by qualified counsellors.

Visit the Beyond Blue Forum depression discussions

Supporting someone else

If you’re worried about someone close to you, there are things you can do to support them.

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